Five Tips For A Perfect Dressage Test
 By mosquito   •   19th Sep 2011   •   10,717 views   •   11 comments
Perfect Dressage TestEvery competition with horses is a test – and not just a test of how well you and your horse have trained at home to prepare for the show. They are also a test of you and your horse’s nerves. Can your horse stay focused with all the distractions? Can you stay focused under the pressure of a competition? The dressage arena has to be one of the toughest places to keep you and your horse calm and able to perform. Where else do you have to remember a complicated pattern (sometimes more than one), have to make all of your aids seemingly invisible, and make it look simply effortless? If your test is part of a three phase event or a combined test it’s even tougher to stay cool and collected; the dressage test sets the score for the rest of the events. After this, you can only make it worse; you can’t make it better, so it’s critical to get the best performance you can in the dressage phase.

Okay, now I’ve got you even more nervous, here are a few tips to getting a perfect dressage test!



If you make a mistake, forget about it

The show must go on. If you miss a transition, or forget where you are in your test, take a deep breath, put it right, and move on. An error is only a few points deducted, but if you let it stress you out you’ll lose points on every movement after your mistake. Calm down, relax, put it behind you, and focus on the next movement. I once had an Arab that was so spooked by the judges in a trailer that we did our whole test in one half of the arena – we were docked points for almost every movement, but I made sure we did each one as precisely as we could. We lost points sure, but we had a handful of ‘9’ scores so we finished our test in third place. This was, of course, after my Arab pony tore up the dressage arena in a panic before we even started. If things go wrong, just laugh and then make the best of it!



Know your test

I don’t like to rely on a caller, and all too often they’ll take points off for that if they allow a caller at all. Learn your test so it’s second nature, so you can do it in your sleep. Visualize it in the days before, when you aren’t even riding. Do the test on foot – just like walking a jump-off course – so you can see it in your head. And practice, practice, practice. On your horse, and on another horse if you can. Many trainers avoid riding the test too much because they don’t want the horse to anticipate transitions and movements, but in my experience you can use that to your advantage. Get the balance right so your horse is listening to you when he is expecting a command, and so he has no surprises in the test. In lower level tests, which are a bit simpler, I’ve ridden some of my best tests when the horse knew it better than I did. Anticipation usually is a problem only in more complex tests, where a horse guesses a shoulder in when you wanted a half pass. For most tests, a little anticipation may be no bad thing, and can help to keep your horse sharp.




The best points come when you make it look easy. You may be riding your whole test trying not to think about your horse throwing a whopping great buck, or picking up the wrong lead, but don’t let on that you’re worried. Put on a nice bright smile that makes it look like you and your horse are the best partnership ever, and the judge might just believe you. This ins’t jumping – where the pole is either up or it’s down, and the clock says what it says. Dressage is about the judge’s impression of you and your horse, so make it a good one. If you are snarling, frowning – or even crying (I’ve seen plenty of dressage riders with tears streaming and runny noses) then the judge isn’t going to add those precious ‘feel good’ points that a happy partnership can sneak in.



Your test begins and ends outside of the arena

Unlike a horse show class where there may be several horses in the arena, and you don’t know if the judge is looking at you or not, in a dressage test you are all alone. The judge’s eye is always on you – and that starts before you enter the arena and after you leave it. Of course, what happens outside of the arena shouldn’t affect your scores, but like I’ve said, this is about a judge’s impressions, and it will. If you approach the arena looking timid and nervous, or with your horse dragging his feet in a lazy walk, only to smile and perk up just as you trot in, the judge will already have an expectation in mind. Approach the arena with confidence. Have your horse together and working, and imagine presenting your horse the judge thinks ‘Wow, who’s that?!” before you even start. And afterwards, don’t lose your cool until you are well outside of the judge’s vision. Even if it went badly and your horse was a total pain, smile, look adoringly at your horse, and ride out with confidence. You can lose it back at your trailer.



Choose your test carefully

Much of the time a test goes wrong because it’s not the right level for you and your horse. Be realistic about what you can do, and what you and your horse are really ready for in the pressure of a competition. It’s easy to see if a jump course will over face your horse, but a dressage test that’s too tough is much harder to spot. You can use your scores to help you – if you are consistently getting good marks for halts and basic transitions, and good comments for your horse’s way of going and your riding skills, the you might think about moving up. But even then, make sure you have the elements of your test down before you try to show it off. If your shoulder-ins lose impulsion or drift, then don’t ride a competitive test that requires a shoulder-in until you are sure you’ve got it down at home. This is sometimes hardest to do in combined training – you know your horse can jump a bigger, tougher course so you step it up a level and find out the dressage is the problem. A horse can go sour on dressage just as easily as jumping – if you continually ask your horse for movements he isn’t ready for, in the pressure of a competition, don’t be surprised if he starts to resist, evade, or even become downright unruly. Be honest about your performance, you and your horse’s level of skill, and pay attention to the notes on your score sheets. Only when you are ready, move up a level. Far better to ride a basic test beautifully than to ride a higher test badly, and that’s true for the long term as much as the day of competition.
Horse News More In This Category:  Dressage      Horse News More From This Author:  mosquito
RoyalCrownEstates  MOD 
Great Tips ! awesome article
  Sep 19, 2011  •  8,961 views
All That Jazz  
Great article. :D
  Sep 20, 2011  •  8,944 views
Great tips
  Sep 20, 2011  •  8,940 views
This was a really helpful article, and very well written too. Thank you for writing this, it's really been useful for what I can do to improve upon :)
  Sep 20, 2011  •  8,944 views
Purple BITS  
Nice article!!!! Great tips!
  Sep 20, 2011  •  8,978 views
Aslans Roar  
great tips. :)
  Sep 21, 2011  •  8,947 views
amazing tips! I love your articles!
  Sep 28, 2011  •  8,941 views
Let It Ride  
Good article but I just wanted to point out that judges do *not* take off points if you have a caller) In fact, if you are nervous or new to showing, it might make you more comfortable to just have someone you trust out there. That being said, it can be distracting. However its very individual.
  15 days ago  •  9,347 views
Run Free  
Nice article! I won't forget to smile! I did tip 1 in my first dressage test and even after jumping out of the arena we placed fourth!
  14 days ago  •  9,174 views
Deep as Rhubarb  
Great tips! :)
  12 days ago  •  9,395 views
Really Helpful!
  Feb 23, 2013  •  9,274 views
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